ONLINE GETTING STUDENTS FINISH LINE TO THE. Education Br a nd St ud io

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1 GETTING ONLINE STUDENTS TO THE FINISH LINE What can administrators, course designers and faculty do to retain online learners? Education Br a nd St ud io

2 A DOPTION AND CREDIBILITY OF ONLINE LEARNING in higher education is on the rise. In part due to emerging technology and learning practices aimed at keeping students logged-in and on track to completion. Today, more than 21 million students are enrolled in a distance learning course, according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).1 Judith Boettcher of Designing for Learning and co-author of Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online: Quick Guide for New Online Faculty says, the adoption of online learning is past the tipping point due to tools that have evolved from being a little difficult to use, a little complex to more mainstream and slick. In that light, school administrators, course designers and faculty are continuously honing best practices for attracting and retaining online learners, encouraging staff adoption and cross-departmental collaboration to address the needs of online learners in new and more effective ways But the question remains: HOW ARE THEY DOING IT? What follows are some broad reflections and recommendations from administrators, faculty and other online learning experts. 1 NCES. (2014). Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall Retrieved from Education 2 Bra nd St ud io

3 PROVIDE A CONSISTENT STUDENT EXPERIENCE ACROSS ALL ONLINE PROGRAMS. Online course design is vital to ensuring faculty are comfortable with the technology as well as keeping students engaged. But, institutions can run into difficulty when administrators fail to plan for the time it takes to design an online course. Poorly planned courses lead to student disengagement, according to Annie Chechitelli, vice president of strategy for Blackboard. Addressing student experience in online courses starts with creating campus-wide standards for course design. This means: Creating a familiar look and feel for all online courses. Clearly defining and communicating course instructions. Offering easy access to the course syllabus and class assignments. Creating a consistent array of course formats. Setting clear expectations that students must meet to succeed. Education 3

4 Enlisting the help of your instructional design team can build this consistency. For example, at Brown University s School of Professional Studies, an instructional design team works with faculty to develop courses for undergraduates, executive program students and pre-college and high school students across the globe, says Ren Whitaker, director of online learning and development for the school. Course templates are another useful option that can help faculty translate material to the online teaching environment. For example, Wilmington University, which has 14 campuses in Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland and where online learning accounts for 41% of revenue administrators designed pre-populated course templates. These templates are meant to maintain a consistent experience for students, according to Eileen Donnelly, assistant vice president of technology and dean of the College of Online and Experiential Learning Education 4

5 GIVE FACULTY A VOICE IN ONLINE LEARNING. Faculty resistance is a major obstacle to the success or failure of an institution s online program. If faculty do not fully understand the platform, or are resistant to the idea, they may fall back on in-person pedagogy, or fail to utilize student engagement tools. Overcoming faculty resistance takes time, patience and the right approach one that ultimately gives faculty a voice in the programs direction. This approach entails: Finding time to engage with faculty on their concerns and ideas, and using their feedback. Providing a complete picture of what quality online learning looks like and what it can achieve. Explaining how new technologies help faculty facilitate creative, effective instruction that is aligned with their personal vision. Providing examples of best practices on-campus, as well as practices used at other schools. Making training easy and accessible, coupled with resources (both materials and in-person) that faculty can use for additional support. Education 5 Bra nd St ud io

6 Schools that are most successful are the ones that spend the time helping the instructors understand, Chechitelli says, as opposed to saying, Here s a button to click and here s how you start it. Faculty easily get engaged when they learn how this will help them. Professional development is central to Wilmington s online strategy, Donnelly says. Instructional designers host several training sessions at the beginning of each school year for new faculty who teach its approximately 750 online courses. Additionally, all instructors are required to take a threeweek training course in Blackboard, where they learn how to incorporate videos, blogs, wikis and other tools that make the course more engaging for students, more than just flat text, she says. Faculty easily get engaged when they learn how this will help them. Annie Chechitelli, Vice President of Strategy for Blackboard Education 6

7 LEVERAGE EARLY ADOPTERS TO CHAMPION ONLINE LEARNING ON CAMPUS. Sometimes explaining the benefits of online learning technology is not enough. Finding early adopters from your institution, or sister institutions, and building strong relationships with them is often what s needed to smooth adoption and evangelize remaining faculty. Encourage early adopters to share their experiences with other faculty at regular intervals, including successes and lessons learned. Finding the lighthouse users who are naturally drawn to it, pointing out their successes, highlighting them as users on campus that sounds obvious, but teachers and faculty feel more comfortable with each other, Chechitelli says. It s about having those early wins and really marketing that success in a relevant way. At Brown, Whitaker says: We ve had great success in recruiting faculty to come teach with us, and then word-of-mouth does the rest. We re fortunate in that we ve had some real champions go forth and say to their colleagues, You ought to try it. How to leverage champions on campus: Don t focus on one champion. Identify multiple champions in different leadership positions who possess a variety of skill sets. Invite champions to participate in brainstorm sessions and give them a voice in online program development. Schedule time to regularly coach your champions and hear their feedback. Create a digital community (blog, social media or through your LMS) specifically for faculty to share ideas and ask questions. Encourage your champions to engage as community managers. Education 7

8 FOSTER A COMMUNITY OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY. Without a strong connection to peers and faculty, students can feel isolated from the course and frustrated with the course material. Having the right engagement tools and framework can overcome common barriers associated with online learning while keeping students on track especially if they feel they have easy access to course instructions, materials, peers and faculty. It s not just what s in the courses but how the courses connect to the rest of the world, says Deborah Everhart, director of solutions strategy for Blackboard. Learning is inherently social, and making new relationships is part of what motivates us. It s not just what s in the courses but how the courses connect to the rest of the world. Deborah Everhart, Director of Solutions Strategy for Blackboard Education 8

9 Boettcher and Whitaker agree that faculty engagement with students is the most important principle for retaining online students. The second most important principle is a corollary to the first: Building a community among students where they get to know and support one another, Boettcher says. When you re teaching online, it s important that students not feel like they re alone, Boettcher says, that they re feeling like others are sharing the same experiences. If faculty aren t up at two in the morning, other students often are. A community of engagement is fostered in multiple ways: Introducing faculty to students before the course begins. Providing opportunities for regular peer feedback and evaluations. Regularly requesting student input in real-time via social media or Wikis. Adding discussion boards or blogs to the class setup. Breaking content into digestible sections. Integrating live video conferencing into lectures. Avoiding flat, text-only courses. Establishing clear course instructions and guidelines for contacting faculty. Sending reminders to keep students on track. Education 9

10 INCORPORATE DIFFERENT FORMS OF TECHNOLOGY INTO THE MIX. In any course, you will find a range of students with varying learning preferences some more comfortable with technology than others. Using a well integrated combination of technology, digital learning activities and social media will not only streamline backend operational processes for administrators and faculty but will also help enhance the overall experience for students. Online learning best practices change with the ebb and flow of technology. Finding the right technological tools to design courses in a way that helps retain students is key to the online learning environment. Before using a new technology, keep in mind: Some software does not work on all internet accessible devices; the major offender is Java plug-ins. No one method should be a go-to; if your mobile site crashes, how will mobile students access their course? Look for technology that easily integrates with your current LMS and facilitates online learning instead of discouraging it. Education 10

11 Technology isn t a silver bullet but it can make the day-to-day of faculty easier, giving them more time to focus on student learning and fostering an online community with students. Blackboard s new Collaborate product is one example of how technology can help institutions achieve this. Its face-to-face technology enables a synchronous course environment that literally puts students right in the classroom. The older version would show only the video of the person talking, Chechitelli says. The new version tiles the images of all the people in the room, which is a really big and important change. It s more like being in an actual classroom. Technology isn t a silver bullet but it can make the day-to-day of faculty easier. The tiled images of multiple people also give students the ability to talk more directly to one another, ask questions and share ideas more than a video of an instructor giving a traditional lecture. It really changes things when both the faculty and students can be using this environment without thinking about the technology, Chechitelli adds, You just go there and connect to the person. Education 11

12 Course design, implementation and faculty and student resources are key to retaining students throughout the semester. Online programs struggle when they don t consider what motivates learning, what facilitates faculty adoption, what keeps students engaged and what tools foster a community online. Everhart says the best online learning environments are most similar to those for the classroom. Effective online instruction should incorporate easy-to understand design, multiple opportunities for learner interaction, high quality feedback, clear instruction, plainly stated goals and outcomes. By working to create best practices for online courses, institutions can expect to better engage and retain students, increase staff participation and provide a consistent student experience across platforms. By working to create best practices and standards for online courses, institutions can expect to better engage and retain students. Education 12

13 Better Collaboration Means More Effective Learning Blackboard Collaborate is a simple, convenient, and reliable online collaborative learning solution. This fully redesigned solution delivers a level of engagement that makes learners feel like they re together in the same room via collaboration and conference tools. LEARN MORE

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